From 25 weeks into pregnancy we were told I had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).

I was informed that my baby wasn’t growing as much as she should, but it wouldn’t be a major issue as long as she was increasing in size even if only by a little bit. Naively we believed this was something we didn’t have to worry about. Up until that point the pregnancy had been nothing but problematic with bleeding on a regular basis. All I could think about was how problem free my first pregnancy had been. I made plans to start my maternity leave at 35 weeks. I was having fortnightly growth scans and then a review with the consultant who each time told me my baby was better on the inside for the moment. At my 29 week scan the consultant made it clear that at the next scan in 2 weeks if our baby hadn’t grown then we would need to think about delivery. I didn’t take this seriously. My husband had an important exam coming up and he was focused on preparing for this. I found I was gaining weigh and my stomach getting bigger so I thought that would mean baby was gaining weight. I told my husband not to come to my scan so he could revise and assured him everything would be fine. In the scan room a student performed the ultrasound and asked the senior sonographer to come in. At this point I thought it was just because she needed to get her examination checked. The senior sonographer asked me if I had lost any water over the weekend. I didn’t recall this happening. I asked if something was wrong, to which she responded ‘no’, but I knew from their faces something was wrong. I was asked to take a seat in the waiting room to be seen by a consultant. The sonographer came out and spoke to the midwife in a hushed tone. At that point I knew something bad was happening.

The consultant called me in and explained that the amniotic fluid was dangerously low and the baby would need to be delivered as a matter of urgency. I was advised a c-section would be the best option to get the baby out quickly. I was then told to go straight to my local hospitals maternity ward. I was shaking all the way back to my car. I remember ringing my mum and I went into panic mode. Trying to think about everything except the fact I was having the baby early. My husband came home and I was busy ironing clothes for my elder daughter trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.

We drove over to the hospital and I went to the Antenatal ward where I was monitored and advised the procedure would be the next day. A doctor from the NICU team came to speak to me about what would happen in theatre. She told me that I would be able to see the baby briefly before she would be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. It still felt like it wasn’t happening to me.

The next evening I was taken down to theatre. I don’t remember much about the surgery as I lost a lot of blood. I didn’t have my glasses on and had to remove my contacts prior to the procedure so when we were given a quick look at my daughter she was just a blur to me. We were taken to the ward but the midwives were more focused on stabilising me and weren’t able to answer questions about my daughter. My husband went up to see her and I asked him to take a photograph of her. I just wanted to know that she was OK. When he showed me the photograph I couldn’t even acknowledge she was my baby. It was like I was looking at a picture of somebody else’s baby. I was taken to the postnatal ward late at night and put into a bay with new mums who had their babies next to them. I couldn’t stop the tears and I was moved into a side ward. I don’t remember sleeping that night but I know I was on high strength pain relief due to having drains in.

The next morning a midwife came in and asked if I had thought about feeding my baby. I didn’t know what type of feeding she meant. Surely the nurses could give her a bottle. The midwife explained I could express breast milk and this was very important for premature babies. She advised the best way to do this was by hand expressing, until my milk came in. I was really tired and emotional… this was the last thing I wanted to do. But the midwife was brilliant and with her support I was able to hand express. She encouraged me by explaining that whilst I had to be in bed this was something I could do to help my baby. This helped my mindset because I was feeling useless. I felt like I couldn’t even perform the basic tasks as a mother to my daughter.

As I had a drain in, I wasn’t able to go to the NICU to see my baby. The staff encouraged me to rest but I was determined to get out of bed. I was able to see my daughter 48 hours after her birth. My sister took me to the NICU. I remember walking past incubators thinking they the babies in them were so small. The first time I saw my baby I didn’t feel the same rush of love I had with felt with my first daughter. I felt like she wasn’t mine and I was scared of holding her. I made my sister hold her first. I didn’t feel a bond with my baby daughter until a few days later. I was still in hospital and spent as much time as I could with her on the neonatal unit. It got very lonely sitting at the cot side, counting down the minutes until it was time for her cares.

I was trying to keep on top of expressing milk every 4 hours. The unit provided me with a portable breast pump for when I was at home. I felt going home was the best option for me as soon as I was well enough. It meant I get back to my eldest daughter. With the sudden changes to her routine her eczema had flared up and she wasn’t sleeping very well. When I walked into my home the first time after I had been discharged I felt an overwhelming feeling of loss. Like a part of me was missing and I felt so empty. I dosed up on painkillers and went to bed waking up to find I had slept through my alarm to get up to express. My clothes and bedding was saturated in milk. This upset me even more as I felt that I had wasted all this milk for my daughter. Due to the c-section I wasn’t able to drive. I felt so low that I had wasted milk and I couldn’t go and see my daughter whenever I wanted. My husband had already taken his 2 weeks or paternity leave so I had to rely on family members to drive me to the hospital. I got to the unit that day and the co-ordinator just said ‘good morning’ and I broke down. She took me aside and we chatted, she reassured me that what I was feeling was normal. After this whenever I saw her she made an effort to catch up and see how I was doing.

I felt that by expressing milk, I was able to do something for my daughter. I made sure I stuck to my routine and looked after my diet. Unfortunately I developed Mastitis twice. It was very painful and meant I wasn’t able to use my expressed milk which again triggered the feelings of low mood and guilt. I soon learnt from other parents to take things one day at a time and celebrate the small milestone. The first cuddles, the first time she latched on, the first bath, all moments where I can shut my eyes and I can bring it all back.

For me bringing my baby home wasn’t easy. I worried about things like germs. How would I know if she was too cold. Would she be on track for her development? It’s was almost as though I wanted to wish her first year away just so she could hit her milestones.

All the babies we have met along our neonatal journey are strong willed, and a determined, independent bunch. Sometimes I look back on our journey and I cant believe what we went through or how we got through it. But we did and I am so proud of all of us.